Once attributed to Girolamo Spinelli; now believed to be the work of Galilei. Cf. Drake, Stillman. Galileo against the philosophers
Galileo, a major progenitor of the Scientific Revolution was also a martyr of the new science. His career can be viewed as a series of controversies, beginning with his earliest published work on the ‘new star’ of 1604, written when he was already 40. He then moved on to the proportional compass, the telescopic discoveries of 1610, the ‘bodies in water’ and sunspot controversies of 1612 to 1615, the controversy of the comets (1619-20), and the most famous of all, the Dialogo of 1632 which led to his trial and house arrest until his death in 1642. The greatest of his scientific works, the Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche had necessarily to be published in Leiden in 1638. Each of his works provoked attacks by Aristotelian philosophers and theological opponents and, occasionaly, he was defended in print by his scientific colleagues. With the exceptions of the 1632 Dialogo and the Discorsi all these works were small pamphlets published in limited numbers and all are rare, both in institutions and on the market.
When Stilman Drake came to the University of Toronto in 1967 he brought with him one of the best Galileo collections in private hands. Its deposit in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department and its gradual acquisition by the Library provided a very large base upon which to build, a process much aided and abetted by Drake himself. The Galileo Collection is now amongst the best anywhere, excepting the manuscripts which remain in Florence where most were created.
One of Stilman Drake’s great acquisitions, made after he came to Toronto, was a Sammelband of some fifteen short works on comets, published between 1578 and 1605. All of them are rare and four are not recorded in any standard bibliographic source. The volume is in an early binding with the gilt coat of arms of Léonor d’Estampes de Valençay (1589-1651). It later belonged to the Galetti family of Florence and Baron Horace de Landau, part of whose library was sold in 1948.
Towards the end of the volume occurs the Dialogo de Cecco di Ronchitti… de la Stella Nuova, rumoured to have been written by Galileo almost from the time of its publication, but not definitely assigned to him until the late 19th century. On 9 October 1604 a new star was first observed in the heavens near the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars in Sagittarius. Because of it brightness and the many astrological inferences that were drawn from such sightings, the interest of several Aristotelian philosophers was engaged to attempt to explain what the nova was and how it came to be where it was. Galileo’s interest was aroused as well and, for the first time, he became seriously interested in astronomical matters and gave three public lectures in which he apparently discussed parallax and the measurement of distance and attempted to refute the Aristotelian theory that novae were sublunar phenomena. He was challenged by Cesare Cremonini, a personal friend but scientific opponent, and Antonio Lorenzini, one of the philosophers. The Dialogo was his direct reply, a discussion between Matteo and Natale, two peasant farmers who speak in a rustic dialect. In Stilman Drake’s rendition:
Natale: why, didn’t you see that star thress months ago, shining at night. Like a skunk’s eye?...That’s what’s really causing these freaks and this drought, According to what a Doctor at Padua said.
Matteo: How do you know it was never seen before?
Natale: The other day I heard a man that was reading this little book, and he said it only began to show last October eighth. The book was by a Padua prof., and said a lot of things.
Matteo: A pox on those goat-turds at Padua. Maybe just because that fellow never saw it before, he wants everybody to believe him that it wasn’t there. Me, I’ve never been to Germany, but its there just the same.
Philosophical astronomy is scornfully dismissed and the two farmers keep coming back to measurement as the only real method of determining the exact nature of heavenly bodies.
Lodovico delle Colombe, a philosopher, amateur astronomer, and poet from Florence, entered the controversy early in 1606, after the new star had disappeared from view. His Discorso…nel quale si Demonstra che la Nouva Stella Apparita… put forward the opinion that the star was not ‘new’ at all and he further promised to reconcile this theory with all true astronomy, philosophy, and theology. The answer to this attack was published in Florence in June 1606 by ‘Alimberto Mauri’, in his Considerazioni, also a part of this volume. In it Mauri suggested, very sarcastically, that Colombe should stick with philosophical astronomy and leave mathematics to those qualified to make accurate observations. Colombe attempted to discover the identity of Mauri without success and came to believe that Galileo had written the pamphlet himself. More recently an exhaustive search of sources has failed to turn up any trace of Alimberto Mauri and Stilman Drake believed that this name was in fact a pseudonym for Galileo.
The works concerning the new star controversy illustrate very well the great strength of the Galileo collection. The primary works by Galileo are present, of course, but it also has the contemporary reactions to them, many of them more elusive than the works themselves.
Acquired from Stilman Drake in 1985.
The above is taken from Bibliophilia Scholastica Floreat: Fifty Years of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Toronto.
Exhibition and Catalogue by Richard Landon.
Colophon: In Padova: Appresso Pietro Paolo Tozzi, M.D.C.V. Nella stamperia di Lorenzo Pasquati
Bound with Raimondo, Annibale. Paternae repraehensiones in sententiam ... Thadaei Hagecij ab Hayck. 1575. [Venetiis? 1575]